It's normal to have upsetting memories, to feel stressed, or even to have trouble sleeping after experiencing a traumatic event. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months. If you still have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to that experience long after the traumatic event, you may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD.
Definition of PTSD
PTSD is a mental health disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing an upsetting traumatic event such as a natural disaster, accident, sexual assault, terroristic act, deployment into a combat zone, or being threatened with death or serious injury. Individuals who have been diagnosed with PTSD may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; feel continual sadness, fear, or anger; or an overarching detachment toward those they previously held closest. Strong negative reactions to sensory cues that remind them of the event is another common effect; seemingly “ordinary” loud noises or even an accidental touch could cause a trigger.
PTSD affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. If you or a loved one are in the military, the statistics are even higher: 11-20 out of every 100 veterans who served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD in a given year.
PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as Depression, substance abuse, memory problems, and other mental health problems.
Know that PTSD is not a weakness. Anyone who experiences trauma is susceptible to developing it. We don’t yet know why some experience stronger PTSD symptoms while others are able to seemingly move past the events, but research continues to be conducted for improved treatment.
Symptoms of PTSD
According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), in order to be diagnosed with PTSD, an individual must have all of the following for at least one month:
At least one re-experiencing symptom (e.g., flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts)
At least one avoidance symptom (e.g., staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience, or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event)
At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (e.g., being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge”, having difficulty sleeping, having angry outbursts)
At least two cognition and mood symptoms (e.g., trouble remembering the key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, or loss of interest in enjoyable activities)
Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms can appear later and often persist for months or years. It’s best to speak with a behavioral health professional to get a clear diagnosis and to find how best to approach a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Causes And Risk Factors
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age after a triggering event, but multiple risk factors play a part in determining whether an individual will develop PTSD after a traumatic event or not, including:
Childhood trauma (related or unrelated to the triggering trauma)
Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear during and after the event
Having little or no social support after the event
Dealing with additional stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, job or home, or medical injury
A history of mental illness or substance abuse
Scientists believe that our “fight-or-flight” instincts – which can be life-saving during a crisis – when extended past the event, can leave us with ongoing, unhelpful symptoms.
How Does PTSD Impact Daily Life?
PTSD can impact our day-to-day routines in many ways, making it difficult to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating. It can impact relationships, and our outlook on life. For example, remembering and reliving the initial trauma may cause problems at work or at home – triggering an out-of-perspective or inappropriate emotional response to everyday experiences. Individuals who have avoidance symptoms may do things like avoiding driving or riding in a car. Other individuals may feel stressed and angry all the time or isolated from friends and family. Left untreated, PTSD can cause dependence on drugs or alcohol or avoidance of activities that once made us happy.
Treatment for PTSD
It’s important to know that it’s never too late to get help for PTSD! While it cannot be cured, PTSD is treatable and mitigated in several ways. Treatment typically combines therapy, medication, and self-management strategies, such as self-soothing and mindfulness. Service animals, particularly dogs, often help with reducing symptoms of PTSD.
Please note, if you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Option 1.
Do You Or A Loved One Have Symptoms Of PTSD?
Telemynd is a national telebehavioral health provider covered with many insurers. You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists from the convenience of your home. Click here to find your current insurance provider and request an appointment today!
NIH | National Institutes of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
American Psychiatric Association: What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD: PTSD